Drainage repairs underway on American Course at Bobby Jones Golf Club

On Aug. 20, City Commission once again to discuss potential purchase of new golf carts

The Bobby Jones Golf Club has seen a decline in use over the past several years, which staff has attributed to the deteriorating facilities. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

As drainage improvements are getting underway on the American Course at the City of Sarasota’s Bobby Jones Golf Club, division remains evident on the City Commission regarding the future of the facility.

A tie vote taken at the last City Commission meeting — conducted on July 16 — on a request to purchase new golf carts has necessitated the board consider the issue again on Aug. 20.

With Mayor Liz Alpert absent from that July 16 afternoon session, Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Willie Shaw voted in favor of the $100,461.40 expense, which includes renting some carts for the high tourist season. Commissioners Shelli Freeland Eddie and Hagen Brody voted “No.” City Attorney Robert Fournier then explained that, under city governance guidelines, the issue would have to be brought back up at the next regular meeting. The board traditionally does not hold a regular session in early August.

City Manager Tom Barwin also reported during that July 16 meeting that a new roof would be put on the clubhouse at the Bobby Jones Golf Club, and the broken air conditioning system would be repaired. Those issues arose during budget discussions earlier this summer, with commissioners debating whether the city should undertake those repairs.

“We think we can get a number of years out of the clubhouse,” Barwin explained on July 16, as a result of building inspectors’ report in regard to the roof. The facility does not need to be relocated in the tentative master plan that Pinehurst, N.C., golf consultant Richard Mandell has provided the commission, Barwin added

The commissioners tentatively are set to hold another discussion in early September with Mandell, in an effort to decide about the future of Bobby Jones Golf Club.

These have been the conditions on Fairway 7 of the American Course. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

As for the drainage repairs: An Aug. 9 news release from the city explained that the improvements on the American Course would begin this week; they are expected to be completed by Dec. 1. The release pointed out that because of poor drainage, the 18-hole course “is overwhelmed with water and frequently unplayable following a heavy rain. During the temporary closure, the drainage on all 18 fairways will be corrected.”

In his Aug. 10 newsletter, Barwin noted, “When it rains at Bobby Jones, the water pools on the fairways … A heavy downpour can close the course for a couple of days.”

“The improvements are needed as a stop gap measure,” said Bobby Jones Golf Club Manager Sue Martin in the release. “By eliminating the water and soggy conditions, the American Course will be playable and once again attract golfers who want to spend time playing a round at this urban oasis.”

Are new golf carts necessary?

During the City Commission’s July 16 meeting, both Commissioners Freeland Eddie and Brody said they wanted more information from staff regarding the request for the new golf carts.

Yamaha features this photo of a Drive2 model cart — the type specified in the city agreement — on its website. Image from Yamaha

A staff memo in the board’s meeting packet for Aug. 20 explains that on Aug. 19, 2015, the city “entered into a three-year agreement with Yamaha Golf-Cart Company,” with the possibility of two, one-year extensions, for the purchase and rental of golf carts. The three-year term expired on Aug. 18, the memo adds. With City Commission approval, the agreement would be extended through Aug. 18, 2019.

The memo also notes that the original agreement called for the purchase of 38 golf carts in 2016, 40 in 2017 and 47 this year. However, because of “budget shortages,” the memo continues, the second-year purchase of the 40 carts was delayed until this year. Staff proposes buying 47 carts this year, the memo says. After the trade-in of 47 golf carts produced in 2015, the total expense would be $96,961.

Additionally, the memo notes, 20 gas-powered golf carts would be rented from Jan. 15 to April 15, at a cost of $58.34 per cart per month for a total of $3,500.40.

If the commission approves the transactions through the first extension of its contract with Yamaha, the memo adds, the total cost would be $100,461.40, and the agreement would be retroactive to Aug. 19.

The memo also asks the commissioners, “Please [consider] that the clubhouse is well past its useful life …, fairway turf is struggling because of an antiquated irrigation system and lack of drainage, and the restaurant vendor terminated [its] agreement as of August 1, 2018. [Bobby Jones Golf Club’s] well-maintained, reliable golf cart fleet is one of the last quality amenities we offer our golfers. If we do not replace the 47, 4-year-old golf carts, there is a high probability that during the winter busy season, when most golf carts go out twice-a-day, these carts will not last 18 holes and surely not 36 holes. This will leave golfers stranded, frustrated, disheartened and vowing not to return.”

During the July 16 discussion, Commissioner Brody asked, “Are the golf carts necessary?”

“They are necessary,” Martin, the club manager, responded.

She explained that the carts are under warranty for four years. “Once they’re out of warranty, then all of the repairs and all of the maintenance are our responsibility.”

This is a copy of the proposal with Yamaha for the new carts and rental carts. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

During the winter, Martin continued, the carts go out an average of two-and-a-half times a day, bringing in about $90 each.

Each electric cart has six batteries, she told the commissioners, and a new battery costs $237, plus the expense of labor to replace it. That means, she stressed, that if all six batteries have to be replaced in one cart, the cost would be $1,422. More than likely, Martin said, if one battery dies, the others are soon to follow.

Additional parts that can fail, she noted, are the steering assembly, which costs $350 plus labor to repair; and the charger, at $80, plus labor.

“I’m not saying we have to replace [the carts],” she added, but the club needs to have carts available that are reliable.

Until the commission ultimately makes a decision on a master plan for Bobby Jones, City Manager Barwin pointed out, staff is working on the assumption that the club will remain open with its current configuration, so the goal is to keep as many carts as possible under warranty.

Barwin also noted the impending work to remedy the American Course’s irrigation problems.

Brody responded that he thought the American Course would be closed for a period of time. Therefore, he said, it seemed, fewer golf carts would be needed.

Plans call for both the American and British courses to be open during the tourist season, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown told Brody.

“You don’t think we should just keep them for one more year?” Brody asked Martin, referring to the carts she proposes to trade in as part of the deal for the new carts.

“That’s not what I would recommend, no,” Martin said.

Buying new batteries seems to be a less expensive option, Brody told her.

“It’s not a battery,” Martin responded. “It’s six batteries.” Unfortunately, if a cart “goes down,” she continued, that usually takes place during the height of tourist season.

This document in the City Commission packet for the Aug. 20 meeting provides more details regarding the financial aspects of the proposal. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“I get it,” Commissioner Freeland Eddie said of the warranty issue. However, Freeland Eddie asked how the club staff assesses whether a cart is close to failing.

Under the terms of the agreement with Yamaha, Martin explained, a company representative comes to the club each month to check on the carts. Additionally, she said, the club has a full-time mechanic, who has been on staff for 29 years. “Believe me, he knows his fleet, and he keeps them going.” Nonetheless, Martin added, brakes and steering assemblies do fail after a period of time.

When Freeland Eddie asked how long it takes to get a new battery, Martin replied, “It’s not that long.”

However, Martin stressed, each year the club keeps a cart, the cart’s trade-in value declines, and new carts become more expensive.

When Vice Mayor Ahearn-Koch — who was presiding in Mayor Alpert’s absence — asked for a motion, Commissioner Shaw made it, approving the plan staff had proposed for the contract extension and new equipment.

Ahearn-Koch seconded the motion.

Shaw called the move “only logical,” given Martin’s explanations.

“This is something that needs to be discussed in the overall plan for the course,” Brody told his colleagues. “This is a lot of money to spend in a very uncertain and tumultuous time for Bobby Jones. … Golf carts last a lotlonger than [four years].”

“There really needs to be an inventory,” Freeland Eddie said, to determine exactly which carts need to be replaced. She did add, though, “I’m not against replacing them.”

She also pointed to the city’s unexpected expenses for the new roof and the new air-conditioning system. “I just can’t support this carte blanche,” she added of the golf cart agreement.

Finally, when the commissioners voted, the 2-2 tie ensued.